Gardening, as a hobby or occupation, is not only a delightful and rewarding activity, but the benefits of gardening include its positive effects on mental and physical wellbeing.
Let’s take a closer look at how gardening can positively impact your health.
Gardening provides physical exercise
Gardening involves a number of chores such as digging and planting holes, weeding, watering, deadheading, picking fruits, vegetables or flowers, pruning, composting, etc. This type of physical activity improves strength, flexibility, and endurance.
Even when you’re not actively involved in heavy gardening work, a sedate walk through the garden, occasionally bending down to smell the flowers or pick some edibles, will help increase your basal metabolic rate through non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAP).
Improves mental health
Modern workplaces often incorporate green spaces within, but it is not just to improve indoor air quality. Presence of plants and flowers has been found to improve mood, reduce stress and mental fatigue, increase productivity, and engender an optimistic outlook. Gardening, even if it’s on a small scale or limited to potted plants, gives a boost to mental health.
There’s another way gardening has a positive impact on us, which is summed up by the word ‘ikigai’ in Japanese. It roughly means having something worthwhile to live for. Planting something as a seed and watching it grow and finally bear flower/fruit is a rewarding experience one can look forward to.
Promotes healthy eating
Getting children to eat vegetables and fresh fruit is one of the big parenting challenges in today’s world. When children are involved in gardening, they are often excited to try a tender snow pea straight from the vine, a freshly dug up carrot or a strawberry or cucumber they picked. Even for adults, growing edibles often leads to healthier eating habits.
Provides safe and healthy food
With increasing awareness of the ill effects of chemical-based commercial farming, not only on our health but on the environment as a whole, people are looking for alternatives. Home gardening is catching on as a source of healthy, chemical-free produce.
Sometimes the same fruit or vegetable may be cheaper in the supermarket, or even looks bigger or better there. But you can be confident that what you grow is safer and healthier to eat. What you see in the store – the “perfect” produce is often a result of man tampering with nature.
Gardening is inarguably one of the best stressbusters there is. Even the smallest garden gives us the feeling of being in the midst of nature. This relaxes mind and body, especially after a hectic day at work and navigating through crazy city traffic.
Ensures good sleep
An evening pittering about in the garden is mentally relaxing, while also just physically tiring enough to ensure a good night’s sleep. This is exactly the opposite of sedentary activities like watching TV, which may be physically relaxing but not mentally stimulating, and ultimately detrimental to sleep. Therefore, gardening is an antidote to insomnia.
Children growing up in farming communities and rural settings have relatively fewer allergies. This is because early and constant exposure to common allergens, from different types of pollen grains to fungal spores, desensitizes our immune system and helps prevent allergic reactions.
Builds up immunity
Working in the garden, getting your hands dirty and coming in contact with bugs, bacteria, and fungi make our immune system tough and strong. Sunlight also adds its beneficial effect by boosting vitamin D stores.
Happiness in dirt
Gardens have always been considered happy places, but now there’s solid evidence for this effect they have on us.
The garden soil contains a large number of microbes, some of which may actually help increase the levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, commonly referred to as the happiness hormone. The most studied among them is a harmless bacteria Mycobacterium vaccae found in garden soil. At a time when depression is growing at an alarming rate, gardening might be the antidepressant we need.
Gardening is believed to reduce the risk of developing aging-related conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. An Australian study on a large group of people in their 60s found a 36% lower risk of dementia in those who gardened regularly. Horticulture therapy or even spending time in garden settings has been found to delay cognitive decline in the elderly and also reduce uncomfortable symptoms of dementia such as confusion and agitation.
Improves communication and social interaction
Gardeners are generally sociable, often freely exchanging the fruits of their labor as well as seeds and other planting materials. They are also generous with words of wisdom and advice. Gardening thus effortlessly opens up channels of communication and social interaction between neighbors and even between strangers who meet at local garden fairs and farmers’ markets. It goes without saying that such interactions promote mental health and well being and help ward off loneliness and depression.